The Florida Department of Environmental Protection today delayed action on proposed stricter rules over the land disposal of sewage sludge after one disposal company said the changes could cost it more than $1,000 per day.
DEP has been working since 2002 on proposed rule revisions in response to public complaints and environmental concerns about sewage sludge, which regulators call "biosolids." The state Environmental Regulation Commission today was scheduled to consider voting on the proposed rule revision.
But DEP officials asked for a delay after attorney Al Ford, representing Shelley's Environmental Systems in Mount Dora, submitted a letter saying the department is required by state law to study other alternatives.
"The letter proposes a lower-cost regulatory alternative," said Phil Coram, deputy director of DEP's Division of Water Resource Management. "We need to evaluate that."
The proposed rules include requiring permits, nutrient management plans and testing for some forms of sewage sludge while maintaining an exemption for those that are dried, processed into pellets and sold as fertilizer.
Ford said Shelley's Environmental Systems' disposal of biosolids on farm fields is beneficial recycling and that agricultural-use guidelines should apply instead of DEP regulations.
"If we start putting these restrictions and regulations on them (farmers), it's not going to happen," Ford said. "I think it comes down to -- if it's not broke, don't fix it."
The company processes 100 pounds of dry biosolids per day, Ford said, and the new regulations could cost the small business an additional $1,000 each day.
Representatives of Lee County and Harvest Quest, Inc., both of which use sewage sludge to produce compost that can be sold as a soil amenity, also called for excluding their operations from the regulations.
Audubon of Florida representative Charles Lee said the proposed rules don't go far enough in protecting the environment, including Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers in South Florida. The group issued a report earlier this year calling on the state and utilities to end the land disposal of sewage sludge in the Lake Okeechobee basin.
Lake Okeechobee, Lee said, already is close to exceeding state limits on phosphorus in waterways. Dumping more sludge in the form of fertilizer on crops could further harm the Everglades ecosystem, he said.
"They're not hauling it out there in pickup trucks," Lee said. "They're hauling it out there in tractor trailer loads -- sometimes in tandem tractor trailer loads, sometimes a long string of tractor trailer loads."
(Photo copied from DEP PowerPoint presentation. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)